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Penny Mordaunt’s coronation sword-bearing cuts a sharp contrast with fellow Tories

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster.

By Kevin Maguire

MPs would forgive Iain Duncan Smith should the former Tory leader and work and pensions secretary be heard warbling “Could Have Been Me” in the bath. It wasn’t missed on the green benches that, had the former Scots Guards lieutenant accepted a cabinet job, he, rather than Penny Mordaunt, would have paraded the Jewelled Sword of Offering in Westminster Abbey and played a starring role at the coronation. IDS huffily declined as too lowly the post of Leader of the House of Commons and ancient pantomime title of Lord President of the Council when approached by Liz Truss. Mordaunt was bounced into the position and the rest is TV history.

Unlucky in the coronation cheap-seats ballot, one Truss minister looking on the bright side whispered that at least it wasn’t Jacob Rees-Mogg tasked with wielding the implement – not to mention the heavier Sword of State, which Mordaunt held upright for 51 minutes during the first part of the service. “He’d struggle carrying a toothpick never mind an 8lb sword,” grinned the Mordaunt fan-boy.

Unable, in a formal suit, to weave his way through the crowds into the Abbey, Michael Gove was seen grinning grimly as he bobbed backwards and forwards in search of a gap in the security barriers. The inability of Rishi Sunak’s party – given a mighty kicking in England’s council elections – to make an impact was captured at the end of a video clip, shot from within the throng, of Gove’s quest. “Who is he?” asked a woman’s disembodied voice. Quite.

In Labour-land the gossip is that Keir Starmer’s praetorian guard is freezing Wes Streeting out of the inner circle. Rave reviews for the shadow health secretary, and his growing confidence, are generating resentment among some of his colleagues.

Bully-boy Dominic Raab has gone and Steve Barclay is protesting his innocence after his own brusque management techniques triggered cries of pain in the health department. A Tory former cabinet minister expressed surprise that civil servants had not publicly criticised Oliver Dowden, Raab’s successor as Sunak’s deputy, during his time as culture secretary. Another Conservative ex-cabinet minister made mention of Grant Shapps. What could he mean?

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Lobby hacks grumble that some Labour press officers are insisting on being quoted as “Labour sources” or a “Labour insider” rather than “spokesperson”. Denial deniability, apparently.

[See also: Rod Stewart has become an unlikely hero on the left – and it’s all thanks to Carolyn Harris]

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This article appears in the 10 May 2023 issue of the New Statesman, What could go wrong?